“In the beginning nothing comes, in the middle nothing stays, in the end nothing goes.” ~ Jetsun Milarepa
Over time, meditation/mindfulness and many other contemplative practices LITERALLY RE-WIRES THE BRAIN producing permanent changes to one’s psychology, emotional stability, character and overall ways of being. I know this from the neuroscience, the psychological science, the spiritual and mind-science literature of the East and I know this from personal experience.
“Matthieu Ricard unpacks Milarepa’s puzzle this way: at the start of contemplative practice, little or nothing seems to change in us. After continued practice, we notice some changes in our way of being, but they come and go. Finally, as practice stabilizes, the changes are constant and enduring, with no fluctuation. They are altered traits.”
In one form or another I have been “meditating” most of my life. When I was around 14 or 15 and would go sit quietly in the woods (meditation) of Grouse Mountain on the West Coast of BC Canada, when I needed to escape the tension, violence and abuse of my family home. This brought me peace and quite deep in my soul, and of course safety. In later years I consumed the mystical and shamanic writings of Carlos Castaneda which led to more time alone in the woods reflecting, practising the “gait of power” and “shutting off the internal dialog” (meditation).
In my 20’s and 30’s I was a serious rock climber which required intense awareness and engaging with a purposeful and confident flow of focused attention (mindfulness) When you climb there is literally NOTHING else in existence for you than that precise moment and the rock face under your hands and feet.
“For example, in this range (+1000 hrs) we see the emergence of neural and hormonal indicators of lessened stress reactivity. In addition, functional connectivity in the brain in a circuit important for emotion regulation is strengthened, and cortisol, a key hormone secreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress, lessens.”
For the past decade or so I have been more formally engaged in my own Zen, Buddhist, Taoist, spiritual, shamanic and meditative practices and I also sit to meditate (zazen) at least once a day, often in the wilderness – no surprise there.
“But even as little as two weeks of practice is sufficient to produce less mind-wandering and better focus and working memory, enough for a significant boost in scores on the GRE, the entrance exam for graduate school. Indeed, some findings suggest decreases in activation in the self-relevant regions of the default mode with as little as two months of practice. When it comes to physical health, there is more good news: small improvements in the molecular markers of cellular aging seem to emerge with just thirty hours of practice.”
For the past 5 years or so I have also been formally engaged with the academic study of consciousness, spirituality, meditation and other contemplative practices from a psychological, neurological and transpersonal perspective.
As a result of my meditation practice, I have witnessed significant and permanent changes to the way I think about or respond to people or experiences in the world. There is a calm imperturbability to my emotions which are rarely disrupted now. Few things seem to phase me any more and my overall state of mind is usually one of calm abiding peace and overwhelming gratitude, not to mention an ever-growing and automatic compassion towards everyone and all life.
“Loving-kindness and compassion practice over the long term enhance neural resonance with another person’s suffering, along with concern and a greater likelihood of actually helping. Attention, too, strengthens in many aspects with long-term practice: selective attention sharpens, the attentional blink diminishes, sustained attention becomes easier, and an alert readiness to respond increases.”
The science is real. Thousands of years of contemplative practices and mind sciences from the East are real. Hundreds of years in the future we may look back at this time as the beginning of a paradigm shift in intellectual and human evolution where we finally realized that the simple secret to human flourishing is training the mind.